Andreotti's SpielRaum: Benjamin et l'architecture Now Available

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Architecture Professor Libero Andreotti recently released SpielRaum: Benjamin et l'architecture (Paris, Editions La Villette 2011), now available in bookstores and online.

The book focuses on Walter Benjamin's contribution to architectural thinking through four groups of essays addressing, respectively, nineteenth century interiors and the notion of dreamspace; twentieth century collective dreamworlds and the relationship between architecture, cinema, and the popular press; Benjamin`s writings on architecture in relation to art history, architectural theory, and philosophy; and Benjamin's relevance to architecture today.

The lavishly illustrated book includes contributions by Georges Teyssot, Martin Bressani, Marc Gringon, and Jean Luis Deotte, Lutz Robbers, Esther Leslie, Esthelle Thibault, Veronique Fabbri, Ken Knoespel, Betrand Lemoine, and Frances Hsu, Philippe Duboy, Antoine Picon, Mario Carpo, Nadir Lahiji, and Diane Morgan, including an extended preface by Andreotti, and an introductory essay by the noted philosopher Jean Paul Dollé.

Seventy years after his death, Walter Benjamin’s popularity shows no sign of abating. A veritable torrent of books, conferences, exhibitions, films, commemorations attest to his rising status as XXth century’s most influential European cultural critic. Almost every area of the humanities, from history to philosophy, film and media studies, literary criticism, politics, and art, has felt the impact of Benjamin’s work. Within this farflung zone of influence, architecture occupies a special place, as the subject of what some consider to be Benjamin’s most important project, the Passagen-Werk, and the source of seminal reflections on the metropolitan experience, wish images, tactility, the aesthetics of shock, and the aestheticisation of politics -- to mention only some notions familiar to architectural scholars. For more than a generation now, Benjamin’s ideas have spread through architectural studies, opening up many new areas of research; yet despite its impact, Benjamin’s thinking on architecture has rarely been made the object of focussed or systematic study. As a result, the precise nature of his influence, the import of his ideas, and the questions of interpretation they pose for architectural scholars today remain largely unexamined.

One reason for this neglect is practical : Benjamin’s reflections on architecture are scattered across of large body of writing, often buried in discussions of apparently remote subjects. Furthermore, as any reader can attest, his writings do not lend themselves to easy summary, tending rather to generate different and at times even strongly divergent interpretations (depending on whether one wishes to emphasize, for instance, Benjamin’s role as a Marxist historian, or Frankfurt school philosopher, or Jewish mystic). To this, one must add the hagiographic approach of many of his devotees, which -- ironically for someone who welcomed the decline of aura -- does not generally encourage open and rational debate. This book is one effort to rescue Benjamin from the fate that so often befalls ‘difficult’ writers : to be often quoted but rarely read. Its goal is to consider critically Benjamin’s thinking from a point of view that is already in some part shaped by his work, to assess its effect on the history, theory, and practice of architecture, and consider its relevance today.

Spielraum : Benjamin and Architecture originated with a symposium organized in Paris in late 2007 under the title Architecture and the Technological Unconscious. Sponsored jointly by the College of Architecture of the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Architecture de Paris La Villette, the conference brought together scholars from a variety of countries and disciplines to consider Benjamin’s writings from a historical, philosophical, and theoretical perspective. One of the goals of the meeting was to revisit notions that have played such an important role in recent years : among them the decline of aura, mechanical reproducibility, and the esthetics of shock. At the same time, as indicated in the conference’s title, the aim was to consider these issues from the standpoint of Benjamin’s larger concern for the new forms of experience generated through architecture and technology – particularly the new perceptual realms opened up by the press, photography, radio, cinema, up to and including the recent revolution brought on by digital media.

This volume presents, in a slightly different order that nevertheless respects the main sequence of themes, papers delivered at this event, including some commissioned after. The contributors make no claim to address all the questions Benjamin’s work raises for scholars, practitioners, and educators in the architectural field. Their goal is rather to open up Benjamin’s thinking to rigorous reflection, analysis and criticism, to highlight the centrality of architecture in his thought and to evaluate its influence on a field that has been profoundly shaped by his work. As Jean Paul Dollé makes clear in his foreword, Benjamin’s thinking is structured around a whole series of antinomies that remain, today, less than ever resolved. Central among them is the question of the ownership and control of the great power unleashed by technology, of the alienations it inflicts on the human sensorium, as well as the new possibilities it opens for expanded and more democratic forms of participation. Today, after more than half a century of accelerated change that has increased immeasurably technology’s power to control human hearts and minds, the same questions – reformulated in terms appropriate to the present – are as urgent as ever. At a time when, as Hal Foster notes in his afterword, architecture’s relentless integration into an increasingly global and centralized economy has resulted in the new market-driven phenomena of branding and celebrity architecture, Benjamin’s reflections are one necessary starting point for any theory of architecture that aspires to a degree of social and political relevance.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Teri Nagel
  • Created:01/24/2012
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016